The Washington Post reported this morning that one of the “best opportunities” for war critics “to change policy” in Iraq is an amendment by Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), which would “mandate that home leaves for troops last as long as their deployments.” The measure failed in July to break a Republican filibuster, “but it appears to be gaining momentum in the Senate.”
On Fox News Sunday this morning, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said he would recommend that the President veto the bill should it pass. “Yes, I would,” said Gates when asked by host Chris Wallace, calling it a “well-intentioned idea” that would “pose greater risk to our troops”:
GATES: I think that it’s a well-intentioned idea. I think it’s really, pretty much, a back door effort to get the President to accelerate the drawdown, so that it’s an automatic kind of thing rather than based on the conditions in Iraq, with all the consequences that I talked about earlier. I think, if as I believe, the President would never approve such a bill. It would mean, if it were enacted, we would have force management problems that would be extremely difficult and in fact create, I think affect combat effectiveness, and perhaps pose greater risk to our troops.
Later in the show, Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), whose son is set to deploy to Iraq in 2008, responded to Gates, arguing that the Webb measure is necessary because the “long-term consequence” of “these kind of deployments is absolutely disastrous for the United States of America and for the United States military.”
“If you don’t figure out how to get these folks some time home, you are gonna break, break this military,” said Biden. He also said that Gates’ concerns were overblown because “we can do what we need to do in Iraq with significantly fewer troops”:
BIDEN: What are the consequences of continuing to do what we’re doing with essentially the way in which we’re deploying these troops? As the military said we’re breaking, we’re breaking the United States military. Flat breaking it. And what we’re doing is we’re going to end up in a situation where you don’t have people signing up. you’re gonna end up having to go to draft. This long-term consequence, keeping these kind of deployments is absolutely disastrous for the United States of America and for the United States military. It’s not a good thing the other way either. You choose two very bad alternatives. One very bad and one okay. If you don’t figure out how to get these folks some time home, you are gonna break, break this military. That’s what this is about. and we can do what we need to do in Iraq with significantly fewer troops. That is my contention and the contention of a whole lot of other people outside this administration.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Army Chief of Staff, and other leading generals agree with Biden that the military has been stretched to a breaking point. The Webb amendment is a crucial first step towards guaranteeing it doesn’t actually break.